23 Oct, 2020
JERUSALEM WEATHER

A plague of locusts that struck Africa hard has returned with a vengeance and like the archetypal plague in Egypt. Billions of young locusts are spreading out from their breeding grounds in Somalia, newly hatched after seasonal rains, eating more than the older insects that passed through already. 

A wave of locusts swept through East Africa last year but the current wave is estimated to be 20 times larger and is described as the worst in 70 years. This wave very much resembles the Biblical plague in this respect, coming as part of a wave of catastrophes that left the land of Egypt bereft of any food.

Locusts invaded all the land of Egypt and settled within all the territory of Egypt in a thick mass; never before had there been so many, nor will there ever be so many again. They covered the face of the whole land, so that the land was darkened, and they ate all the plants in the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left. Not a green thing remained, neither tree nor plant of the field, through all the land of Egypt. Exodus 10:14-15 

Many farmers are prevented by pandemic lockdowns from going out to their fields to battle the swarms. In addition, the pandemic has slowed the delivery of vital pesticides and equipment form other countries. Many field officers have been prevented from tracking and reporting on the infestation due to restrictions.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has called the locust outbreak, caused in part by climate change, “an unprecedented threat” to food security and livelihoods. Its officials have called this new wave some 20 times the size of the first.

“The current situation in East Africa remains extremely alarming as … an increasing number of new swarms are forming in Kenya, southern Ethiopia and Somalia,” a new FAO assessment said.

In Ethiopia, six million lives are at risk as the locust outbreak threatens to cause “large-scale crop, pasture and forest-cover loss, worsening food and feed insecurity,” according to the FAO. 

And Ethiopia’s agriculture ministry says the problem is worsening as the locust swarms are now appearing in locations where they had not been previously sighted.

The organization predicts that favorable breeding conditions through May will likely produce another round of swarms in late June and July, coinciding with the start of the harvest season. The U.N. has raised its aid appeal from $76 million to $153 million, saying immediate action is needed before more rainfall fuels further growth in locust numbers. So far the FAO has collected $111 million in cash or pledges.

“Swarms are often tens of square kilometers in size,” the FAO explained. The FAO warned that a swarm of just one square kilometer eats the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people. “A swarm the size of Bamako (Mali) or Niamey (Niger) can consume what half the population of either country would eat in a single day.”

The swarms also can travel 93 miles a day making efforts to control an outbreak even more difficult. Officials warned that further rains in the region could lead to an even larger outbreak.

The locusts are “invading the Eastern Africa region in exceptionally large swarms like never seen before,” the Nairobi-based Climate Prediction and Application Center said.

According to Locusts Watch’s three-month forecast, the threat will pass south of Israel before heading east towards Yemen, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan.

As if COVID-19 and locusts were not bad enough, a new case of Ebola virus, the second this month, was diagnosed in the city of Beni in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). As of 10 April 2020, 3456 confirmed and probable cases and 2276 deaths have occurred as a result of the outbreak.